At first glance, the film may seem like sun-dappled simplicity itself, but stick around for the final moments at the very tail of the end credits, and you'll appreciate the wise mingling of longing, satisfaction, and regret that have been percolating through the movie all along. Rohmer likes to make films in groups (the "Six Moral Tales" launched him onto the international film stage in the 1960s), and Autumn Tale rounds off a set devoted to the four seasons. The other films in the quartet are worthy enough, and Rohmer has the kind of adornment-free clarity that many great artists develop after a lifetime's worth of craft, but Autumn Tale is the best of the bunch: a warm, quiet masterpiece. --Robert Horton
Isabelle's daughter is to be married. But the focus of the film is not on the bride and groom, but on the older generation, on Isabelle and Magali. In this way Rohmer combines the warm and enchantment of the celebration of autumn life, when the grapes are ripe for harvest, when love has its last chance, when Dionysus has his festival, when the heat of summer is over and we are ready to reflect and realize what is really important before it's too late.
Isabelle feels this strongly and wants her friend to find happiness before another winter comes. But Magali, because of the vineyard, doesn't have much of an opportunity to meet men, although she allows that she would like to. She is at that delicate age when one can try again or shrug it off. Isabelle intervenes by going to a dating service and placing an ad. She meets Gerald (Alain Libolt) and they have lunch (she insists on lunch) two or three times and she evaluates him. He is modest, somewhat suave and amazingly diplomatic. They share a certain attraction.
Meanwhile, Rosine (Alexia Portal) who is dating Magali's son and who is very close to Magali, perhaps more so that she is to her son, also wants to find a mate for Magali. She proposes her philosophy professor, Etienne (Didier Sandre), who is in fact sweet on her. He is the kind of man who, as Magali observes, likes them younger as he grows older. But maybe she will be the exception. Maybe he will finally grow up. Both arrange for their choices to meet Magali at the wedding.
As usual Rohmer explores humanity and how we relate to one another, and finds both love and a kind of sweetness that is liable to bring us to tears. The resolution of the film is followed by a most endearing anticlimax in which there is a dance of joy.
But it seems to me that what she sees is a plot contrivance put in to add drama and tension to the story line. Without it there would be no film. But it is still a central flaw which undermines the films reality. In one brief minute, in contradiction of everything she has said and that we know about her, Isabella comes on to Gerald and seems to be trying to seduce him. It seems so out of character that you wonder what on earth she is playing at. And at that moment, without either of them noticing who it is, the door is opened by Magali who seeing them together feels that all her hopes for happiness have been shattered. She feels betrayed. Isabella's subsequent explanation that it was only a peck on the cheek to thank him for liking her friend doesn't hold water, and flies in the face of what we remember. And then she has to face the ordeal of being driven home by Gerald, and her struggle to suppress her rage and inner turmoil is superbly acted. She fails of course and leaves him abruptly, convinced that all now is lost.
The ending of the film is a little inconclusive, leaving the question hanging; was Isabella coming on to Gerald or not? and if so what does it portend for the future of all three? But that is another film.
This one is typically Rohmer; warm, intimate, a film in which nothing much happens but in which considerable pleasure is to be derived from listening to the charming character's very real conversations and watching their very subtle and ever changing facial expressions. Just to be in their company is enough.